When this set was released there were almost no medieval sets on the market. The Airfix Sheriff of Nottingham set was about the only one with knights in armour, and for anyone wishing to recreate the Hundred Years War that was hardly adequate. So when this set appeared it was sorely needed.
The title of this set is important as it refers to the knights of France rather than the army of France. The bulk of any medieval army was made up of the infantry, but as far as contemporary commentators were concerned the only important part of a French army were the knights, and to a lesser extent the other men-at-arms. The infantry were raised by various means, and were usually poorly armed and clothed, with perhaps a helmet as the only metal armour. Mercenaries would have been better equipped, but none of these men are present in this set.
All knights were cavalry, though on many occasions during the Hundred Years War they fought on foot, so both are represented here. Given the choice knights would fight on horseback, and some of their most famous exploits involve charges, though only one of the mounted poses has his lance lowered in the classic charge pose. The rest are using swords or other weapons, which is most appropriate once they had got to grips with the enemy and were seeking to engage in combat with a foe of a perceived similar social standing.
The dismounted knights are employing all manner of weapons, and are reasonably lively. Two of the figures (the third figure in each row) have ring hands into which a number of weapons can be inserted. The first two mounted figures also have ring hands (as does the last, though only a lance would be put in it). The poses are fine except for the man holding a two-handed mace over his head. He is presumably supposed to be in the act of bringing it crashing down on an opponent, but in fact he is holding it vertically above his head. This is a difficult pose to do with a two-piece mould, but the figure here is just plain silly and should have been replaced.
The weapons included in the set are:
- 2 lances
- 4 axes
- 2 swords
- 2 maces
- 4 flails
All the weapons are well done except for the lance, which is (understandably) simplified, and is only 30mm (2.1 metres) long. In fact they should be more like twice that length. There are also six shields which also fit into ring hands.
The costume of the figures is typical knight's apparel. They all have plate armour on the limbs, and wear the jupon, a shorter and tighter version of the old surcoat, under which could be either plate or mail armour. During the early part of the War the full helm was going out of fashion, to be replaced by the biscinet, often with a visor. All the figures wear this type of helmet, and in the majority of cases the visor is closed. The visor was often opened in battle as it restricted breathing and sight, and having it open improved these as well as providing a much needed cooling breeze. However this was done at the risk of injury to the face. A variety of styles are visible on these men, but all seem perfectly accurate.
Many of the figures have shields, yet these were less popular once armour reached the stage where it covered virtually the whole body. Still, these are easily removed and in some cases are optional anyway. All the shields are the classic heater shape, but some men chose to carry the much smaller buckler shield, which was round and often thought sufficient for a man in full armour. However none of these have been provided here.
The three horses all have housings which cover most of the body. One also has plate armour over the head and neck, but all may well have armour underneath. The housing was sometimes purely decorative, and was made of silk or other fine material, but often it was of leather or other hard material to offer some protection. Though such housings fell out of favour later in the war, it is appropriate for these horses to be included in the set. None of the horses are at the full gallop, as even a full charge was usually done at no more than a trot. The men fit the horses well, but do not grip and so will need to be glued in place.
This is a really nice set of figures, though it does have some faults which we have already highlighted. However the detail is deep and clear and there is no flash to speak of. Although knights often fought on foot we would have preferred to have seen one or two more 'charging' mounted individuals. Still, such things are a matter of personal taste, and this set has much to commend it.